Between the two of them brother and sister duo Katya and Alexei Tylevich cover some expansive territory: design, criticism, art, architecture, film. They’ve come to the 2014 installment of Out There Doing It, the LA Forum’s annual series on emergent practice, as Friend & Colleague. The collaborative effort highlights their ability to write beautiful prose and stage art projects that draw on their Eastern European heritage and hypercontemporary life here in Los Angeles. We asked the team a few questions in preparation of their participation in OTDI 2014.
What’s design practice in Los Angeles today?
Design practice in L.A. is manic. There’s a lot of energy expended in different directions, much of it productive, successful, and experimental. There’s a lot of ground to cover, but it’s probably fair to say that L.A. design is most comfortable on a human scale, rather than a metropolitan one. L.A. seems particularly adroit at getting the residence right, and all that’s attached to a residence (interior design & objects, the indoor-outdoor connection, and then the construction of little enclaves or neighborhoods around the residence). There’s constantly work being done to make individual vibrant parts of Los Angeles more readily connected to one another, so that the city functions more like an (enormous) healthy body, rather than a number of limbs held together by duct tape and barbed wire. Then again, that’s kind of what makes Los Angeles so palatable, isn’t it? All those flailing limbs. Design practice in Los Angeles is much more than can be described in this one answer, but let’s just agree that designers have their hands full.
Does the urban landscape figure into you approach projects and concepts?
Our point of view originates from an urban setting, but the subjects we elaborate upon can include suburban, rural, or unclassifiable landscapes. For example, our project Happy Nothing draws on news stories originating from all over the former Eastern Bloc (urban, rural, and creepy settings alike). We react to those news stories with the creation of an original fiction and an original image — almost always, we draw from the landscapes of our original sources. That being said, the two of us can’t escape our urban position, and don’t really make a point of trying to do so. Even when we set our sights outside of the urban landscape, we’re always a bit biased toward the city.
Briefly discuss one project from what you’ll be presenting at the OTDI Round Table on October 16.
The project we’ve been working on longest as Friend & Colleague, and the one closest to our conjoined hearts, is Happy Nothing. It’s an ongoing website, a book, and a traveling, growing exhibition. We have a strict work process: For each installment of Happy Nothing, we agree on a single news item originating form the Former Soviet Union, then without any further consultation, Katya writes a 250 word fiction and Alexei creates an original image in response to this news item. We bring the fiction and visual together like an exquisite corpse, and make it the central purpose of our project. We also leave the original news item as a “source” for people to view, if desired. In part, this project is our way of commenting without regurgitating. Happy Nothing creates new fictions out of old news.
This year, we were invited to apply a similar approach to a series of “postcards” we created for the Competing Utopias exhibition at the VDL House, which seamlessly outfitted the Neutra House with Eastern Bloc, cold-war era everything (furniture, kitchenware, clothing) from the Wende Museum. We reacted to six rooms of the exhibition with the creation of six fictional narratives and images, which were printed as postcards and handed out to viewers upon arrival to help them navigate this real/unreal setting.
How do you “host”?
Some of our projects are certainly parasitical, feeding off of old news or existing objects (artworks, architecture) to create new mutants. We’ve described a few such projects already — Happy Nothing, and our work for the Competing Utopias exhibition. Another project befitting of the “host” title is Word Bites Picture, in which we invite select contemporary artists from around the world (people like Todd Hido, Vito Acconci, Michaël Borremans, and others), to submit artworks to a group show, in which all of the didactics are 500-word fictions written by Katya in response to the individual works. We have exhibited this ongoing project in New York and L.A., and it also exists as a book. As a “host,” this project is infected by the artworks that drive it, even though the end results are those original, mutant relationships between the different artworks, between the artworks and the fictions, and between the fictions and the fictions.